Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Israel Fortifies 50 Years of Friendship

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Israel Fortifies 50 Years of Friendship

Article excerpt

On November 29, 1947, when the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to partition the disputed territory of Palestine into one Arab and one Jewish state, Jews around the world saw the historic vote as confirmation of world support for a Jewish homeland and the establishment of the state of Israel less than six months later, on May 14, 1948.

But the controversial vote--which was opposed by all Arab countries--could not have happened without the backing of Latin America, says Israeli diplomat Herzl Inbar.

"Of the thirty-three votes in favor of partition, thirteen came from Latin countries," recalls Inbar, deputy director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Inbar, who is based in Jerusalem, was in the United States recently to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Israeli independence. During his visit, he gave a talk at the Washington headquarters of B'nai B'rith International on the subject of Israel's ties with Latin America.

"Jewish leaders, even before the vote, succeeded in getting the support of the region's intellectual elite, particularly those against imperialism. Most of them were familiar with the struggle of the Jewish people," said the sixty-year-old diplomat. "We had the support of almost everyone who counted. To this day, there's a second and third generation of thinkers connected to Jewish issues, from Argentina's Borges and Ernesto Sabato to Venezuela's Eloy Blanco."

In 1951 Israel appointed Ya'acov Tsur as its first ambassador to Argentina--in fact, its first to any Latin American country. Tsur arrived in Buenos Aires by steamship via Montevideo, learning Spanish fluently within a few months. After completing his term in Argentina, Tsur returned to Israel and founded the Institute of Israeli-Latin American Friendship, among other things.

That marked the beginning of a period in which Israel--boycotted by the Arab world--began offering developing countries from Antigua to Zimbabwe its expertise in agriculture, particularly drip-irrigation technology, in return for sympathetic votes in the UN General Assembly.

"In the early 1960s Israel started cooperation projects with Latin America, mainly in agriculture," said Inbar. "About twenty-six thousand Latin students have since attended courses in Israel. I think there is no other country outside the region which can make that claim."

Inbar himself was born in Poland in 1938, a year before the outbreak of World War II. He spent his early years in both Argentina and Israel, joining the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1964. Two years later he served as secretary and translator to President Zalman Shazar during his historic visit to Latin America and OAS headquarters. In 1972 Inbar organized the first Latin American Congress for Jews in Arab Countries, held in Caracas, and served in various capacities over the next two decades at Israeli embassies in Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela before assuming his current post three years ago.

"Today, we have embassies in every Latin American country except Cuba, and a greater diplomatic presence in the region than even some European nations," he said, noting that Israel is a member of the Inter-American Development Bank and enjoys permanent observer status in the Organization of American States.

Even in Cuba, which broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 1974 under pressure from the Arab world, Israeli entrepreneurs are present in agribusiness, real-estate, and tourism ventures. One Israeli company, Grupo BM, has spent at least $20 million rehabilitating the Jaguey Grande citrus groves and marketing Cuban oranges in Western Europe.

Interestingly, only two countries in the world--Costa Rica and El Salvador--have recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital by locating their embassies in the holy city. All other countries that maintain diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, including the United States--Israel's chief ally--have their embassies in Tel Aviv. …

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